Post-Riot Debate in France Focuses on Jobs

The recent riots in France have quieted down, but the repercussions are still being debated. One of the main issues prodding the rioters was the lack of jobs — the jobless rate is more than 10 percent in France, far higher than in the United States. And the problem is not just felt by the poor. Many in the highly educated middle class say it's nearly impossible to find work.

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Evening quiet has returned in the suburbs of Paris and the French government has pledged to do something about the root causes of the nightly rioting that took place earlier this month. Exactly what to do is under debate. Today President Jacques Chirac defended plans for alternative job training. One of the main issues rioters complained about was unemployment; it hovers near 10 percent. And as NPR's Adam Davidson reports, the problem is felt not only by the poor but also by many in the highly educated middle class.

ADAM DAVIDSON reporting:

Ann Maroni(ph) says she has no choice. If she wants a job, she's got to leave Paris, her hometown.

Ms. ANN MARONI: The reason why I want to work abroad is, of course, because the US is a great country for me, but it's also because I can't really find my place in France right now.

DAVIDSON: Maroni is smart. She has great experience. And she's about to graduate from the European School of Management, ranked second of all business schools in Europe by The Financial Times. Maroni says she loves Paris; she loves French culture. But she's going to move to the US.

Ms. MARONI: It's a bit like the American dream. You have the feeling that you can find all the jobs you want.

DAVIDSON: School officials say it is much more difficult to find a job in France than in the US or the UK. They say one of the key problems is French law. In France, it is much harder to fire a person than it is in, say, the US. French companies must prove to the government that a person deserves to be fired, a process that can take months. Then they have to pay mandated severances, which can add up to many thousands of euros. As a result, French companies are less inclined to hire new people. Instead, they use interns. Mary Laura Mulanyae(ph) graduated this year from the same business school. She was an intern in a French bank. She didn't like the salary.

Ms. MARY LAURA MULANYAE: It was a sort of 300 euros per month.

DAVIDSON: That's not much.

Ms. MULANYAE: No, it's an internship. That's the reason why marketing companies are hiring interns and that's free employee.

DAVIDSON: In France, internships can last years, and the interns do real work. Mulanyae created a system to accommodate mentally ill bank customers who are not legally allowed to handle their own money. When she finished her internship, the bank could have hired her for a large salary and that big commitment, or they could just get a new intern for 300 euros a month. That's exactly what they did.

Mulanyae said she could easily find a new internship, but she wants a real job and she wants one in France. At first, she thought it would be easier to get work in her home country.

Ms. MULANYAE: I'll take some time to check whether it is really easier, and if it's not I'll go elsewhere.

DAVIDSON: How much time will you give yourself?

Ms. MULANYAE: To find in France? I think till February.

DAVIDSON: The internship issue has become political. A group calling itself Precarious Generation says it represents the hundreds of thousands of young French people who have been forced to go from internship to internship without ever having the prospect of an actual job.

(Soundbite of office activity)

DAVIDSON: Joelle Planche Ryan(ph) works in the Career Center at the European School of Management. She thumbs through a loose-leaf binder of job prospects for jobs in marketing.

Ms. JOELLE PLANCHE RYAN (European School of Management): We would want the marketing folder to be a lot bigger because, unfortunately, there are a lot more internship offers than job offers. We'd want it to be two, three times, four times bigger.

DAVIDSON: She says things are a little better in some fields, like finance and management consulting. But nowhere in France is the job market as good as it is in the UK and the US. Ryan says she often tells students they should move out of the country to launch their careers.

Ms. RYAN: Everybody knows that the American dream is lived in the States, and one doesn't talk about the American dream in this way in France.

DAVIDSON: There are many in France who defend the country's system. They say that once they do get a job they're more secure than anyone in the US, and the unemployed receive generous and lifelong state assistance. Advocates of the American system argue that all of France's employee protections come at a large price. It makes the job market stagnant and it pushes many of the best and brightest to consider leaving the country. Adam Davidson, NPR News.

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